A door through to the corridors of time

16 03 2011

It was nice to take a walk with a few of my friends, former Toa Payoh residents as well, down memory lane, visiting parts that they were familiar with in their childhoods, much as I did to the block of flats I lived in some time back. In doing so, we were transported back some forty years in time, to a place that maybe was very different in many ways to the upgraded Toa Payoh that we see today. It was nice however, to find that beyond that unnecessary clutter that somehow upgrading gives to the opened and airy neighbourhoods of our HDB childhoods, there are still some reminders of a forgotten time that is left for us to discover.

Much of Toa Payoh is very much new intertwined with the old, with the clutter of upgrading mixed with some reminders of a forgotten time (even upgraded laundry poles seem to have clutter added to them).

We did rediscover our lost childhood in some ways taking the walk, which took us to the outside of the units that two of my companions lived in, a second storey corner unit that has lost much of its original decor, and another on the fourth floor which the previous occupant was pleased to discover, still had the original mosaic flooring that was put in all those years back. On the ground floor of that block of flats, we stumbled upon a unit with a renovation notice stuck to its front, one which, we were surprised to see, would have looked exactly how it would have all those years back, with its original window louvres and pink wooden door that somehow doesn’t look much worse for wear. I guess what the renovation notice means is that the window and door would soon be retired, and we were glad to have had to chance to see them before they go along with those that came with the other units before they were renovated.

A flat that has retained the original door and window louvres which would have been used for more than 40 years.

The original lower louvres of the windows.

The letter slot that doors on HDB flats were fitted with up to the early 1970s - the post man delivered mail door-to-door in those days.

A keyhole cover that doors on HDB flats were fitted with then, I had forgotten about these until I saw it on the old door.

The keyhole cover in a semi-closed position.

A ground floor corridor ... somehow it looked a lot narrower and the ceiling seemed a lot lower than when we were children.

New age pegs on a nylon laundry line strung outside a fourth storey flat.

"Flags" of a HDB estate fluttering over upgraded windows of a n old block of flats.

A new covered walkway added during upgrading - one of the more useful bits of clutter added to the neighbourhood.

Colours of the new neighbourhood that has come up around the old.

Besides the door and the corridors through which we could take that step back in time, there was another little place at the row of shops that still looks as it did 40 years ago, that is a clinic, Chaim’s Clinic at Block 111 Toa Payoh. I have not actually visited that clinic before this, but on the evidence of what my companions told me, the shop front, floor tiles, frosted glass panel and even some of the furniture, are very much what they were all those years back. The doctor, Dr. Chaim, I am told, is well into his 70s and is still practicing!

A reflection of the new on the old ... one of the survivors of these 40 years, a clinic that has retained much of its decor, including the frosted glass panel at the front, the collapsible gate and the mosaic tiled walls.

A close-up of the mosaic tiled wall at the clinic's front.

The waiting area of the clinic.

A set of old weighing scales.

The mosaic floor.

One of the shops in the upgraded block that hasn't been hit by the inflation that usually accompanies updgrading.

Balls for sale ... used to be quite commonly seen hung outside shops in HDB estates.


Toa Payoh on the Rise

15 09 2010

Rising gradually and somewhat obscurely off Lorong 1 in Toa Payoh, a somewhat lonely and forgotten little road that starts between an old school building and an empty plot of land leads to the crest of a little hill on top of which once stood one of the major public hospitals in Singapore. Part of the road – the section that leads from the former hospital down to Thomson Road, had probably been the first named after the area that was to be one of the first planned satellite towns in Singapore, Toa Payoh. It had been named Toa Payoh Road prior to 1961 and was subsequently renamed Toa Payoh Rise, to avoid confusing it with what was to become a main thoroughfare, Jalan Toa Payoh, now part of the Pan Island Expressway.

Toa Payoh Rise today.

I had first been acquainted with the area in the late 1960s, as a somewhat reluctant companion to my mother who taught at the school on Lorong 1, aptly named First Toa Payoh Primary School being the first school to be built for the new satellite town (the word back then was that the subsequent schools being planned would be named in the order of build). I would accompany my mother on Saturday mornings, when I was home as kindergarten was on only five days a week. Back then, Alternate Saturdays were school days and the other Saturdays working days, so what it meant was that school teachers would be in school for at least half a day. I suppose it was common then for teachers to bring their children along on Saturdays, as I remember having many companions – fellow children of school teachers with me in the school’s staff room.

First Toa Payoh Primary School in 1968 soon after it opened. On the left of the photograph, a 10 storey block of flats, Block 167, typical of the early Toa Payoh, can be seen - that stand on what is now an empty plot of land.

The main school building had been one that was typical of those that were built post-independence – a U-shaped four storey high building – the three sections surrounded a little quadrangle that with its two flag poles right smack in the front of the centre section, formed an assembly area. The paved area extended further back to the fence and served as a car park. Behind the main building, the school canteen with its long rows of tables and benches, doubled up as a school hall and with badminton courts marked on the floor and a stage at one end, the food stalls being at the other. The pathway to this building also led down to the expansive school field behind the school – that was down a steep slope via a long flight of stairs to a field that not only served the student population, but what had seemed a resident population of pythons and cobras that were frequently sighted in the drains that surrounded the school field. The buildings and the field are still there today, now the temporary premises of St. Nicholas Girls’ School.

The former First Toa Payoh Primary School building is today the temporary premises of St. Nicholas Girls' School.

Across the road from the school, there was a cluster of flats that have since disappeared – blocks 164, 165, 166 and 167. The blocks had stood on a raised table of land and accessible from Lorong 1 by several flights of stairs. The flats had hidden a cluster of low rise buildings further up the road, one that was well protected by a fence around it that told perhaps of its use. That was the Toa Payoh Girls’ Home, which was opened 1968 to replace the York Hill Home, and was meant to serve as a refuge for destitute girls as well as for the rehabilitation of young offenders and delinquents. The home was in operation up to 2006 when it moved to new premises and was renamed the Singapore Girls’ Home. These days, the cluster of buildings sits silently behind the fence, awaiting perhaps redevelopment in what must be a prime piece of land.

Up the slope from Lorong 1, where Blocks 164, 165, 166 and 167 had once towered over much of Toa Payoh, an empty landscape now greets the observer.

The former Toa Payoh Girls' Home, seen through the locked gate.

The cluster of buildings of the former girls' home now sits silently behind a fence and locked gate which now keeps people out rather than keeping girls in.

Beyond the home, lies the crest of the small hill which Toa Payoh Rise rises up to – a clearing there these days with quite a fair bit of construction activity going on for a Circle Line MRT station, erasing any evidence of its past as the site of one of Singapore’s public hospitals – the Toa Payoh Hospital, and before it was renamed on 1 April 1975, the Thomson General Hospital or Thomson Road Hospital. The hospital had been set up in 1959, opening in May of that year, as a hospital for the chronic sick and included a nursing school as part of its complex. Set in a quiet and somewhat secluded area, the only means of access to it in the early days was via Toa Payoh Rise from Thomson Road. It had been a hospital that I visited on many occasions … my maternal grandmother in her later years had frequent stays there and I myself had been a patient, having been warded whilst I was in Secondary 2 with an illness that deprived me of 8 months of playing football. I had on two occasions visited the A&E Department as well, once when I had a nasty spill taking a corner on a racing bicycle in 1980 that had half my tee-shirt covered in blood and required several stitches to be put in my head … and another time when I had an extremely high fever after returning home from an overseas trip in 1991. The hospital closed its doors in 1997 and moved, lock, stock and barrel to Simei as the New Changi Hospital which is now known as the Changi General Hospital (CGH). More information on the history of Toa Payoh Hospital can be found at CGH’s website.

The former Thomson Road Hospital and its nursing school in its early days.

Another view of the former Toa Payoh Hospital (source: http://www.healthcare50.sg).

The top of Toa Payoh Rise, once a quiet spot - ideal for the former Toa Payoh / Thomson General Hospital which had once stood there.

Where a main public hospital once stood, an empty plot of land now stands. The construction activity going on for the Circle Line MRT station will erase all traces of what might still be left as a reminder.

The view from the grounds of the former hospital towards the fence of the former girls' home and beyond to Toa Payoh.

At the crest of the hill where the road that led to the hospital is, there is another building that still serves its intended function – the School for the Visually Handicapped, and a little beyond that, the Association for the Visually Handicapped. Beyond the crest and the area where the hospital had stood, the road rolls downward towards its junction with Thomson Road. That had been a nice shady and wooded area – one through which I enjoyed my frequent walks through – not just for the peace and calm it provided me, but as a “short-cut” when I was older, to Thomson Road where I could hop on the many buses which could take me down Thomson Road and to the city. That would take me past a cluster of flats beyond the line of trees which are still there today, marked by a sign on the road. Further down at the junction, there used to be a Mobil Service Station – one that stood as a landmark for many years – which has quite recently disappeared. Much has changed in the area around the junction over the years and it is hard to imagine now what it might have been like … something I guess might soon be said as well about Toa Payoh Rise.

A road sign at the crest of the hill seeks silence for the School for the Visually Handicapped and also previously for the hospital that had stood nearby.

What had once been a quiet wooded area now sees much construction activity which involves the construction of an MRT station and the widening of the road that will completely disfigure what had once been an escape from the concrete jungle.

A sign off Toa Payoh Rise pointing towards the cluster of low-rise flats that are still there today.

The junction of Toa Payoh Rise and Thomson Road ... looking to where the Mobil Service Station had once stood.